Skip to main content

In BlackBerry's future, keyboards may be an afterthought

Doug Gross, CNN
  • With the Z10, BlackBerry's iconic keyboard is gone
  • The click-clacking of keys has become a thing of the past on smartphones
  • BlackBerry says screen still has the feel of a BB keyboard
  • The new Q10, with keyboard, is a "retro play" some say

(CNN) -- If it doesn't sound off with that iconic click-clack keyboard sound, is it really a BlackBerry?

The company behind the former market-leading phone says yes. And it is betting a big stack of their dwindling chips that both new users and diehard "CrackBerry" devotees will agree.

On Wednesday, Research in Motion (who would simply be named BlackBerry by the time the event ended) unveiled BlackBerry 10, a top-to-bottom overhaul of its mobile operating system.

With BlackBerry 10, struggling phone maker eyes comeback

With it came two new phones. One, the BlackBerry Q10, includes the physical keyboard that most users, or former users, consider virtually synonymous with the brand. But that one felt like little more than an afterthought.

Erin Burnett test drives BlackBerry 10
How secure is the BlackBerry 10?
BlackBerry posed for a comeback?
BlackBerry's reputation for security

It was the Z10 -- a snazzy, touchscreen-only new phone -- that was used throughout the presentation to show off the system's new capabilities. And BlackBerry's website Wednesday was dominated with plugs for the Z10, while the Q10, like an embarrassing stepchild, was nowhere to be found.

Forget the Z10 simply having fewer buttons than older BlackBerrys. With no "home" button, it's got fewer than the iPhone and most popular Android phones, as well.

The Z10 isn't the first time BlackBerry has tried a keyboard-free device. But it's clear they're putting more stock in it than the ill-fated BlackBerry Storm, which hit an iPhone-dominated smartphone market with a resounding thud in 2008.

From 'CrackBerry' to 'depressing': The BlackBerry's 5-year fall

"The absolute best typing experience in the industry, period." That's how BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins touted his two new phones.

Specifically, with white virtual keys and a black background, it's one that will be familiar to users of other smartphones, who BlackBerry hopes to woo back home, as well as the brand's current fans.

"Everything just feels like a BlackBerry typing experience," said Vivek Bhardwaj, head of software at BlackBerry.

Kevin Michaluk, editor of BlackBerry fan site CrackBerry, says a touchscreen-only experience "may seem odd to some considering the majority of today's 78 million communication-hungry BlackBerry subscribers are using models with a physical keyboard."

But after demoing the device, he says he's sold.

"Now that we have logged some mileage on the BlackBerry Z10, we're getting it," Michaluk wrote Tuesday. "BlackBerry 10 has built a full touchscreen experience that even physical keyboard diehards will love."

5 things that could make BlackBerry 10 a hit

Function aside, experts say that in 2013 bringing a touchscreen device to the forefront was something BlackBerry had to do.

"The Q10 is really just a retro play to make sure they do not lose any of the 79 million users that still prefer the traditional BlackBerry keyboard," said Scott Snyder, co-founder of mobile-strategy firm Mobiquity and author of "The New World of Wireless: How to Compete in the 4G Revolution."

"The Z10 is really the future vision," he said.

The Z10 may not signal the end of the physical keyboard on smartphones, he said. But it could be the beginning of the end as the last holdout evolves.

"RIM was caught off guard by this. Now they are in the mainstream, with a touch interface, for the majority of the 1 billion smartphones in the world. Only a small segment of enterprise users will continue to stay on the traditional keyboard model out of habit."

Review: BlackBerry's Z10 and BB10 feel a generation late

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.